Monday, July 22, 2019
Tommy Tompkins (known as Tailspin Tommy and played by Clark Williams) and his pal Skeeter Milligan (Noah Beery Jr) work for Three Point Airlines. Their latest job is surveying an oil pipeline on the Pacific island of Nazil. The survey will be made by dirigible but the dirigible meets the fate that alas usually met such beasties - it runs into a typhoon and crashes. Just as Tommy has performed the daring feat of docking with the dirigible in mid-air.
The survey is resumed but using two aircraft - Tommy’s biplane and a cabin monoplane piloted by Betty Lou Barnes (Jean Rogers), the niece of oil tycoon Ned Curtis (Bryant Washbourne). But more trouble awaits our intrepid heroes.
The plot has all the standard serial elements with narrow escapes, the heroes getting captured, the heroine getting captured, a few double-crosses and an abundance of action. And of course a touch of romance. Betty Lou is clearly crazy about Tommy and Inez Casmetto, daughter of the good Casmetto brother, obviously thinks Skeeter is kinda cute.
The aerial sequences are absolutely superb and are mostly original with surprisingly little use of stock footage. There are lots of dogfights but they’re mostly inconclusive, which of course is intentional - you don’t actually want the good guys shot down and you don’t want the bad guys shot down either, at least not until you’re getting close to the final chapter. While the bad guys and The Eagle have machine-gun on their aircraft Tommy’s aircraft is unarmed so when it comes to a dogfight he has to improvise a bit (such as tossing hand grenades at his aerial opponents). Perhaps it was felt that if Tommy flew an armed plane it would make him seem less of an insanely brave hero.
There’s certainly no faulting the job done by director Ray Taylor. He keeps things moving along and mostly avoids the slow patches that bedevil lesser serials. Serials are by their very nature formulaic and repetitive. The trick is to keep coming up with clever variations on the standard plot devices and cliffhanger endings. This serial on the whole manages to do that.
An unfortunate feature of most serials is the flashback episode comprised mainly of footage from previous chapters. Happily there is no such episode in this serial.
The DVD (I believe there’s also a Blu-Ray) from VCI offers extraordinarily good transfers. Which is a major bonus in this case since the flying sequences look particularly impressive.
Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery is a fairly conventional serial but it’s extremely well executed and it has terrific aerial stunts. Very highly recommended.
Saturday, July 13, 2019
Rama Khan is determined to destroy Prince Haidi and the feeling is mutual. The odds seem to favour Rama Khan, or they would favour him except that Rama Khan has another deadly enemy in the person of Taura. And he soon finds himself with a new enemy, the Princess Shalimar, daughter of the nominal ruler of Egypt, Prince Selim (the actual ruler is of course the Caliph in Baghdad). In fact the two women are one and the same woman, Taura being merely a disguise the princess puts on so she can keep in touch with the mood of her people. Of course it’s absolutely obvious to the viewer that Taura and the princess are the same woman but we’re expected to believe that nobody has ever noticed the resemblance.
Of course the brave and noble Prince Haidi and the brave and spirited Princess Shalimar fall in love, and of course the wicked Rama Khan has plans to force the princess into marrying him.
I must say I’m a bit doubtful that a good Muslim woman like the princess would be offering up prayers to the goddess Isis. I rather suspect that the writers’ ideas about 13th century Egypt were somewhat sketchy.
The underwater secret passageway leading from her bathtub which is employed by the princess to leave the royal palace discreetly is a nice touch.
The movie’s biggest minus is that the plot is thin and at times stretches credibility (even by the standards of costume epics). There’s also Jeffrey Hunter, a bit too stolid for this sort of movie. Michael Rennie is not a favourite of mine but he does quite well as Rama Khan.
And there’s Debra Paget. First off she has a stunning figure and her costumes are artfully designed to ensure that we don’t overlook that important fact. She does a lot of dancing. Her dances are supposed to be sexy, and they are. She also gets to do some sword-fighting! And she’s perfectly cast. She’s tempestuous and passionate and headstrong and very keenly aware of her effect on men. She has the fiery temper you expect in beautiful princesses and glamorous dancing girls. Debra Paget’s problem as far as her career was concerned seems to have been that she was the right actress to play sexy temptresses in movies such as Princess of the Nile and when that genre began to fade her career faded. She gave up acting at the age of 30 to marry a millionaire. Princess of the Nile was her one real taste of stardom. A pity because she does the temptress thing with great style.
This is very much B-movie stuff although it’s rather lavish for a B-movie (it was produced by Panoramic Productions which made lower budget films for 20th Century-Fox distribution). It’s a fun adventure flick but the main reason to watch it is to see Debra Paget strutting her stuff. Which she does so well that Princess of the Nile can be highly recommended.
Saturday, July 6, 2019
Charles Valentine (Ivan Desny) has never been convicted of any crime. In fact there’s never been enough evidence even to charge him. Nonetheless the police in several countries are very interested in Mr Valentine. He has had a number of very wealthy girlfriends, all of whom have met with sudden and very fatal accidents. He is strongly suspected of being a kind of modern Bluebeard. Now that he has taken up residence in the United Kingdom Detective Superintendent Hallett (Michael Goodliffe) of Scotland Yard is very interested in him indeed. Interested enough to give Number Six the job of keeping a very close eye on him. Only Superintendent Hallett knows the identity of Number Six. He could be one of a number of people close to Mr Valentine.
Valentine has also acquired an associate, Jimmy Gale (Brian Bedford). Jimmy has a talent for disposing of inconvenient people, disposing of them in a very efficient manner. Jimmy has already made himself indispensable by eliminating a man who tried to kill Valentine.
The mystery element here is the identity of Number Six. There are only a few possibilities but we’re still kept guessing, and of course Charles Valentine is also kept guessing. He knows of the existence of Number Six because Superintendent Hallett made a point of telling him. It’s Hallett’s idea of psychological warfare. It’s the sort of thing Hallett enjoys and it’s not a bad idea at that.
The suspense element of course is whether Nadina Leiven will escape the fate of the other unfortunate young ladies who have become involved with Charles Valentine.
The acting is what one has come to expect of these Merton Park films. There are no big names but quite a few faces that will be familiar to fans of British movies and television of the era and the whole cast is extremely good. Ivan Desny is suitably smooth and sinister as Valentine. Michael Goodliffe (known to fans of cult TV as Hunter in the second season of Callan) was always good at this type of rôle. Superintendent Hallett is a cheerful sort of policeman, addicted to crossword puzzles, willing to take risks but always very confident that he’s going to get his man. Nadja Regin is wonderful as the foolish spoilt brat Nadia. Brian Bedford is very creepy as Jimmy Gale. Joyce Blair adds some additional glamour as one of Valentine’s ex-girlfriends, nightclub singer Carol Clyde.
Mr Rose, Raffles and The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.
The low budget is not a problem. In fact it’s not really a problem in any of the Merton Park Edgar Wallace movies. Solid scripts and fine acting are the things that distinguish a good B-movie from a bad one and Number Six has both of these highly desirable ingredients.
Number Six is a well-crafted and thoroughly enjoyable example of the art of making B-pictures. It is highly recommended.